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194                                                                                                                 B. POLEVOI
He was not to worry, not to mope, but to swim towards
Olya, swim against the stream, swim forward at all costs,
exert every ounce of strength and reach the girl! But
what about that letter? He wanted to go to the letter-
box and wait for the postman, but he changed his mind,
and with a wave of his hand said to himself: "Let it go.
It won't frighten real love away." And believing now
that love was real, that it was waiting for him whether
happy or sad, sound or sick, whatever condition he would
be inóhe felt a new accretion of strength.
That morning, he tried to walk without crutches. He
cautiously got up from the bed and stood with his feet
apart, helplessly trying to keep his balance with his
outstretched arms. Holding on to the wall, he took a
step. The leather of the artificial feet creaked. His body
swayed, but he kept his balance with his arms. He took
another step, still holding on to the wall. He had never
dreamed that walking was such a difficult job. When he
was a boy he had learnt to walk on stilts. He would lean
his back against a wall, get up on the stilts, push away
from the wall and take one step, then a second and then
a thirdóbut his body would sway to one side, he would
jump off, leaving the stilts lying in the grass growing
in the suburban street. It was not so bad learning to
walk on stilts, however, for you could jump off, but you
can't jump off artificial feet. And when he tried to take
the third step his body swayed, his foot gave way and he
fell prone on the floor.
For his exercises he had chosen the hour when the
other patients took their various treatments and there
was nobody in the ward. He did not call for help. He
crawled to the wall and, supporting himself against it,
slowly rose to his feet, rubbed his side that he had hurt
in his fall, looked at the bruise on his elbow, which was
beginning to grow livid, and, clenching his teeth, took
another step forward, pushing himself from the wall. It
looked as though he had learned the trick. The difference
between his artificial feet and ordinary ones was that they
lacked elasticity. He was as yet unfamiliar with their
properties and had not yet acquired the habit, the reflex,
a& it were, of changing the position of his feet in the
process of walking, of transferring the weight of his body